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2020 NBA Mock Draft 1.0: Anthony Edwards Leads Early Projections

Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman headline our first mock draft of the season.

With college basketball season a week away and the NBA back in action, here we are, circling the draft wagons once again and hedging our bets as best we can before the games get started. There’s a general industry-wide lack of confidence in the talent level at the very top of this draft class, and the race for the No. 1 pick remains wide open. As always, there’s going to be value on the board at various junctures of the draft, but as we head into the season, there’s no surefire star-in-waiting. There remain several intriguing high-lottery candidates, with the possibility of early-season surprises shaking things up over the next several weeks.

Although the trepidation surrounding the top spot is understandable, with no player having aggressively laid claim, Georgia guard Anthony Edwards opens the season at No. 1 on the mock draft, offering tangible upside and bankable athletic ability as a potential lead shot-creator, though he has a long way to go to reach that upside. James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball follow him, two players with considerable potential, but who also come with questions attached for different reasons. This is a base assessment of where things stand as the season begins.

As always, our mock predicts what the upcoming draft might look like were it to take place on a given day. This is not a definitive ranking of prospects, and it’s hard to account for team needs so far in advance, so think of it more as an informed, ballpark assessment of each player’s potential draft range.

The initial mock draft sequence is based off Sports Illustrated’s preseason win projections, which can be found in the magazine’s NBA preview.

1. Cavaliers — Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia

Height: 6’5” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18 | Freshman

By my estimation, Edwards is the early answer to the No. 1 pick conundrum, offering the most appealing combination of athleticism, shot-creation, defensive potential and sheer upside. Though far from a finished product, he checks the right boxes from a physical perspective, and possesses the base skills to eventually justify a high-usage backcourt role down the line. His pull-up game and off-dribble scoring continues to improve, and his natural strength and explosiveness are a plus, even if he’s a bit undersized for a two-guard. He shoots jumpers naturally enough to project with optimism, and it helps in all facets that he’ll be one of the younger players in this draft class. Edwards’ passing and decision-making skills are a work in progress, but so long as he can score the ball efficiently and learns the value of shot selection, he’ll have a chance to be quite good, and a legitimate building block worthy of the hype.

As it stands, Cleveland appears likely to pick at or near the top of a guard-heavy draft. If this pick were to fall outside the Top 10, it would convey to the Pelicans (although given the Cavs’ miserable short-term outlook, that’s rather unlikely). After selecting Collin Sexton and Darius Garland with consecutive lottery selections, the Cavs could be headed toward a potentially difficult decision-making juncture when it comes to the question of best-available versus team-building need. For lack of a better solution, we’ll give them Edwards anyway. Whether he ends up going first come June hangs on how convincingly he can sell himself as a future star, which will be tied to the consistency of his play. Georgia will assuredly give him the freedom to make that happen.

2. Knicks — LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks

Height: 6’6” | Weight: 180 | Age: 18

If you cut through all the hype and off-court drama that’s surrounded his family, Ball, in a vacuum, possesses a wealth of attractive on-court traits. His size, playmaking feel, jump shooting potential, and capacity to play uptempo gives him a chance to be a high-impact player at the NBA level, with a logical pathway to augmenting a team’s offense with his unique skill set. In a best-case scenario, Ball could become a productive lead guard, with potential to serve as the engine for a high-powered offense as his pull-up game continues to improve. His play, predictably, has been up and down in Australia so far, and accounting for his age, that’s to be expected—the simple fact he’s been productive, and a key part of his team’s offense, means something in itself. Safe to say, teams are monitoring him quite closely, and a respectable body of work in the NBL may legitimize his case as a top selection.

The biggest impediment Ball will face moving forward comes from his lack of plus strength and explosiveness. He’s been able to compensate to this point with a shifty handle and his ability to change speeds, and while his size helps a great deal, Ball still has a ways to go to fully account for his weaknesses at the highest level. Defensively, he might be a sieve. And while fun to watch, it’s unclear how much his freewheeling style of play contributes to winning basketball in a vacuum. Like his older brother Lonzo, LaMelo might project best as an above-average supporting player, rather than as a star who can prop up a successful team by way of his own ability. If we’re comparing the two, LaMelo is a much more scoring-oriented guard, with a natural level of comfort attacking off the dribble and playing in tight spaces that his brother still lacks on some level.

Safe to say, the Knicks’ point guard situation has been one of the more depressing revolving doors in the league for years, and based on their current trajectory, they should have options picking early in the draft.

3. Hornets — James Wiseman, C, Memphis

Height: 7’1” | Weight: 240 | Age: 18 | Freshman

Wiseman enters the season with a relatively defined case as the No. 1 pick, but also with a lot to prove. He essentially went rail to rail as the top-ranked prospect in his high school class, with obvious upside tied to his sheer size, body type, and explosiveness off the floor. There’s no question Wiseman fits in the NBA athletically, and he’s added an impressive amount of muscle over the past year. The elite physical component (he boasts a 7’4.5” measured wingspan and stands 6’11” barefoot) makes him the rare center potentially worth an early-draft investment, particularly given the associated financial commitment. Still, he’ll have to translate those tools into production, and the Tigers will benefit from a rather soft schedule.

Defensively, Wiseman should eventually be impactful, with solid shot-blocking instincts and the ability to cover distance quickly both on the ground and in the air. That alone will earn him meaningful NBA minutes in due time. He could be more Myles Turner than Deandre Ayton. But his offensive skill set is still a work in progress, and his game remains rather left-hand dominant. He tends to play more of a finesse style and fall back on shooting jumpers rather than bang on the interior. While Wiseman isn’t the first blue-chip center to enter college with that type of problem, he must prove he can consistently be a threat to justify many of the shots he takes. It’s also noteworthy that NBA teams continue to question his occasionally dispassionate approach. All that being said, a productive, efficient season can go a long way. And wherever the Hornets pick, acquiring high-end talent should be the prerogative.

4. Grizzlies — Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL Basket

Height: 6’4” | Weight: 175 | Age: 18

Maledon is arguably the top international-born player in this draft class, coming off a successful 2018-19 season with ASVEL in which he averaged 14.5 points, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes and shot 38% from three-point range on 4.3 attempts per game. Those totals are made all the more impressive given he played the entire season as a 17-year-old. Maledon’s size and natural, fluid athleticism coupled with a disciplined approach has helped set him apart at a young age, and he may end up perceived as one of the players with the highest floors in this class. Stylistically, he’s more of a straight-line attacker and ball-screen distributor than someone who’s going to go get a bucket. But coupled with his ability to catch and shoot from outside, multi-positional defensive potential and nice intangibles, Maledon’s all-around game and fast-tracked learning curve all bode well long-term. He’s already part of the French senior national program, and his club team is owned by Tony Parker, who has helped groom him over the past couple of years.

His start to the season has been stunted somewhat by a shoulder injury that’s caused him to miss the past few weeks, but with ASVEL playing in the EuroLeague this season, Maledon will return to myriad high-exposure opportunities at the top level of international play. He’s not overly flashy, but there’s a lot to like. With Ja Morant quite possibly a star at point guard, the Grizzlies might end up in a tricky position drafting in a guard-heavy lottery, but Maledon’s defensive potential and size makes him a more viable fit. It’s worth noting that Memphis’s first-rounder will convey to Boston if it ends up falling outside the top six. And from a value perspective, they might actually be better off losing their pick this season, rather than send an unprotected selection in what presently appears to be a loaded 2021 draft.

Maggie Hobson/UNC

Maggie Hobson/UNC

5. Suns — Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina

Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 19 | Freshman

Anthony arrives at North Carolina as arguably the most college-ready freshman in the country, and should be capable of handling heavy responsibility on an overhauled Tar Heels team. While he’s listed generously height-wise, Anthony’s explosiveness and strength has consistently helped him excel as a scorer, and there’s little doubt about his competitive mettle. He’ll put up big numbers by way of high usage, but teams will be watching closely to assess what level of playmaker he really is, and whether he’s the type of point guard you want to orient your franchise around long-term. There are skeptics in league circles when it comes to Anthony’s long-term upside: he’s close to physically mature, will be 20 years old on draft night, and if he doesn’t consistently make teammates better, it might be hard to justify using a top pick on a smaller point guard with a shoot-first style. In his defense, given how good he is already, Anthony at least presents teams with a tangible degree of floor.

Expect a big season from Anthony at UNC, where he’ll be able to get in transition and play downhill with shooting around him. If he can answer questions about his willingness to make plays for others and ability to lead, it will go a long way. His reputation entering college with a reputation is not that of a sterling teammate, and NBA teams will need to better understand his personality before passing judgment. The Suns brought in Ricky Rubio to address their point guard spot for the short-term, but the thought of developing a more well-rounded playmaker next to Devin Booker should be attractive. Anthony’s NBA pedigree (his father is former Knicks guard Greg Anthony) and presumable readiness for the pros should help his case this high.

6. Wizards —R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers

Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 18

It’s no secret NBA front offices have prioritized seeing Hampton, as well as LaMelo Ball, in the early weeks of the season. Hampton’s early results as a member of the Breakers have been predictably up and down, but there remains a level of upside in his size, quickness and overall agility on the floor, which allows him to project as more of a versatile combo guard rather than a true point. Hampton is less than a year removed from high school ball and looks the part, with a need to mature physically before he can truly belong on an NBA court. Still, his base athletic tools should play up, and as he adds strength, it should help his ability to finish in the paint and allow him to be more of a threat to score against high-level competition. He’s acquitted himself well enough in the NBL, but a pair of exhibition games against the Grizzles and Thunder delineated how much ground Hampton still has to cover over the next couple of years before making meaningful NBA contributions. He may not end up going this high, but the experience overseas appears it will be positive for his development, regardless.

The more concerning aspect of Hampton’s game at the moment is his in-game jump shooting, as he tends to rush his mechanics under duress, and needs to use this season to find a level of comfort and adjust. Defensively, he’s a total work in progress. Hampton’s serious approach to the game is laudable, but the pro level has not yet fully slowed down for him, and teams will monitor closely to see if he turns a corner. Given he’s played far less high-level basketball than most of the players in this class at this stage, the situation overseas should benefit him in the long-run. Hampton may not profile as a star, but he can certainly develop into a useful player if things break correctly. The Wizards are in asset-accumulation mode and can develop him as a third guard early on.

7. Hawks — Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Age: 18

Avdija is a polarizing prospect, boasting an unquestionably advanced feel for the game, but also average athleticism that some scouts doubt will play up effectively at the NBA level. He bolstered his reputation in leading Israel to a title over the summer at the Under-20 European Championships, and his competitive juice and skill set as a big, playmaking forward make him an intriguing player. But teams may need to see a respectable base level of production before investing a high lottery pick, particularly given this is Avdija’s first season seeing real playing time with Maccabi’s senior team. His body of work to date and core strengths do offer enough appeal that that the general consensus has him falling somewhere in the lottery.

Although Avdija is a terrific passer, intelligent team defender and has displayed the capacity to initiate offense, it’s fair to wonder whether he has the quickness and handle to do much damage in the halfcourt at the NBA level. His lack of explosiveness hurts him finishing around the basket, and there’s a good deal of polish he still needs as a scorer. He’ll likely be best deployed running pick-and-roll offense in a slower-tempo style, which then raises the question of how consistently he can get downhill. It’s also hard to see how he avoids being picked on defensively. As gifted as he is in transition, and noting some inconsistencies as a jump shooter, if Avdija simply profiles as a playmaking-oriented combo forward (rather than as a full-time guard), the upside is much more limited. He’s been accustomed to a ball-stopping, high-usage role when being featured within his age group, but the odds are it may not be a sustainable long-term job for him. Still his intelligence and drive may be enough to bridge the gap in a different role capacity. He could end up going higher than this, but there are certainly some skeptics around the league, as well.